Attaining relevant industry accreditations and certifications can be a time-consuming and frankly arduous affair, but it is an area that few dealers can afford to take lightly.
As well as illustrating a company’s expertise or professionalism, or even serving as a point of differentiation, having the right certifications these days can be crucial to winning or losing big chunks of business.
While companies don’t technically have to jump through any legal hoops to simply sell or supply equipment, dealers inevitably have to demonstrate appropriate accreditations as their customers grow in either size or bureaucracy, or they become more involved in installations.
Aside from the obvious Approved Contractor Scheme accreditations for gas work, and F gas certification for larger refrigeration work, there are no compulsory industry-wide programmes that distributors must complete, nor any legal requirement for electrical qualifications.
Largely speaking, the accreditations out there that are applicable to the equipment sector are diverse and varied. From the various ISO standards to any number of health and safety accreditations, such as CHAS or Safe Contractor, distributors must pick their favourites carefully if they don’t have the resources, funds or desire to chase them all.
One of the biggest issues, however, is that not all end-user customers hold accreditations in the same regard. What matters to one operator might not be as important to another, while some are now requesting companies provide documented policies on things such as ethical procurement and corporate social responsibility, which would have been unheard of not all that long ago.
While much of this is driven by the need for accountability and transparency, there are occasions when customers can be too inflexible, suggests Steve Elliott, managing director of Serviceline. “The biggest frustration in evaluating certifications is that individual customers insist that we pay for a brand of certification that is lower level than our ISO quality assurance, ISO environmental management or OHSAS health and safety management systems,” he says.
Newport-based Shine Machinery holds ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 18001, Achilles, CHAS, Constructionline and Gas Safe, while it also cites its CESA and FCSI memberships as important. But operations director, Jon Shine, notes that the benchmarking accreditations have different values to different clients and market sectors, which appear to be polarised in their view of certifications.
“Some simply won’t recognise — or score — against Achilles for instance, while others take the same as their gold standard,” he says. “Tracking and measuring the value our customers place on individual standards is difficult due to the diversity of client types in the catering supply market. We have selected those certifications we hold against qualitative, not quantitative measures.”
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As the primary distributor body for the UK catering equipment market, CEDA has a pretty good handle on the formal expertise that dealers now require. While CEDA points out that it is up to individual members to decide what is best for their businesses, it has established links with specialists who can help members on most types of accreditation, such as quality assurance standards and environmental certification.
Peter Kay, director of technical support at CEDA, says that one issue until recently has been the requirements of many major customers to be accredited by their chosen health and safety partner.
“While all the qualifying requirements are very similar, it was often the case that if you had CHAS accreditation and a customer insisted that you had Safe Contractor or another accreditation, you had no option but to complete all the necessary paperwork, go through the assessment and hand over the fees, which could be many hundreds or even thousands of pounds,” he says.
Kay says that while there are no emerging certifications on the horizon that distributors desperately need to be aware of, he does see greater emphasis on the Altius Elite Vendors programme in the market.
“More large customers are now using Altius listing as a mandatory requirement of qualification before a company will be considered,” he says.
In order to keep its members informed about this, CEDA and CESA have arranged for an Altius representative to speak at the first joint catering equipment industry technical conference later this year.
A lot of distributors will agree that the main cost associated with certifications doesn’t just come from simply paying ‘lip service’ to each of the standards, but rather from employing adequate resources to ensure good performance company-wide in all areas to maintain the accreditations.
“The cost of obtaining and renewing certifications is high and growing,” says Serviceline’s Elliott. “We regard it as an investment for the benefit of our customers. Its no different from any premier product having features and benefits superior to the competition and meeting customers’ needs.”
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The issue of cost is one that will certainly resonate with distributors that aren’t laden with resources.
Gerry Oakley, director of QCM Catering Equipment, says his company is a very lean organisation with minimal staffing and therefore the paperwork often associated with obtaining and maintaining certifications is naturally demanding.
“There can be a lack of understanding on the part of the certifying body that an SME simply cannot devote the manpower to reading, digesting, understanding and then completing the seemingly endless documentation that inevitably results from membership of one of these bodies, let alone several,” he comments. “Were I cynical then you might conclude that many of these accrediting bodies are there to self-serve and do not necessarily enhance the safety, accountability or quality of their sector.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum, meanwhile, is the phenomenon of ‘logo collecting’. With so many certifications out there, it is not unusual to see some contractors’ vans plastered with multiple emblems, but this isn’t always an advantage if main contractors or end-users remain picky over the certifications they demand or recognise.
CEDA’s Kay is confident that this will change thanks to pressure from the industry. He says the National Specialist Contractors Council (NSCC), which CEDA belongs to, has lobbied the HSE about this issue for a number of years and were instrumental in establishing ‘Safety Systems In Procurement (SSIP)’, an initiative that reduces the burden of bureaucracy by bringing multiple health and safety proficiencies under one standard.
“SSIP has managed to get most major H&S Accreditation bodies to recognise each other’s accreditations and therefore eliminate the need for a company to have accreditations with several different companies,” says Kay.
“By virtue of our membership, all our members can avail themselves of the services offered by NSCC which includes standard letters that can be used at a pre-qualification stage to cite the fact that they are accredited by one company who has signed up to SSIP and therefore do not need to be accredited by the customers’ chosen company. This can save many hours at the prequalification stage as well as saving money on additional accreditations,” he says.
It still remains something of a jungle out there, though. Distributors, it seems, have to judge the value of a certification on their own criteria.